By Adam Clifford
The old adage ‘it takes a village…’ certainly rings true when checking in with some of Australia’s hottest hockey prospects.
The successful re-launch of the Sultana Bran Hockey One League has enhanced the reputations of several emerging stars of Australian hockey, namely Adelaide Fire’s Jack Holland and HC Melbourne’s Josie Lawton.
Holland has excited crowds with his electric pace and deadly goal shooting to earn the nickname “Hollywood” from the Fox Sports commentary team as he led the line for the Fire.
“I reckon that every state has had a number of younger guys that are tearing up, which I think is great to see,” Holland said in response to his status as an emerging star.
The blonde firebrand, who has also drawn comparisons to South Australian hockey great Craig Victory, says he’s thrived in the Hockey One format with additional resources provided off-field to support his development.
“As an example, at the Fire we have had Daniel Jackson, who works for the Adelaide Crows AFL side and played AFL for Richmond Football Club, working around the Fire as a ‘mental coach’.”
“I’ve found this side of the game to be really interesting and working with Daniel has been super eye-opening, and I’ve personally found it to be really beneficial for my game.”
The 20-year-old took his impressive Hockey One League form into the Sultan of Johor Cup where he scored five goals in the Burras in their silver medal winning exploits.
“The Burras had an unreal coaching stuff with Jay (Stacy), Knowlsey (Mark Knowles) and Wellsy (Matthew Wells), so that was a really great experience that I’m super grateful for and I was able to learn heaps and take a huge amount away from the trip.”
“I think it’ll be important to sit down with Huey (Hugh Purvis – South Australian Sports Institute head coach) and set some more short-and long-term goals moving into the next block and next year, but at the moment I’m loving playing hockey and I’m pumped for next year.
Many hockey fans may have also noticed that Holland plays with a blue wristband, an artefact from his long-standing involvement in the charity Cycle4Sam.
“Cycle4Sam is something that is hugely important in my life. The Roberts family sadly lost their son and brother Sam at the age of 4 in 2005 to a very rare disease,” Holland says as he explains his association to his good friend’s family.
“They created the charity Cycle4Sam which has raised over $920,000 and I completed the last event which was a tour of the Eyre Peninsula.”
“This was just over 900 kilometres of riding over six days.”
“It does mean a huge amount to me to support what is in incredible cause but also support my best mate and his family, for as long as I can remember I have always worn a ‘Persevere’ (the charity moto) wristband 24/7 and I cannot play without it.”
The other interesting tidbit from talking to Holland, is that while he has starred as an out-and-out striker for the Fire, he plied his club hockey as a defensive midfielder this season.
“Obviously always being a striker, it was pretty new for me, but I was pretty keen to get in there and help out anyway I could. I really enjoyed the challenge and felt like it really helped expand my game and my skillset, plus it also allowed me to get more ball and look to impact the game in a different way.”
Meanwhile for HC Melbourne’s youngest player, eighteen-year-old Lawton, has similarly enjoyed a meteoric rise into the Jillaroos Junior World Cup Qualifying side on the back of her consistent Hockey One League performances.
“Hockey One has been a platform for many people to showcase their skills and ability, and I hope I have been able to do the same,” Lawton said.
“I feel the high standard of the 2022 Hockey One women’s League is promising for the future of the Hockeyroos.”
“Personally, I have never considered my age to be a barrier. The HC Melbourne team are so supportive of each other that age is irrelevant and I believe the coaching staff take the same approach.”
Lawton believes she has thrived in the HC Melbourne environment, filled with experienced mentors to guide her through everything from professional preparation and managing the highs and lows of each match performance.
“It is definitely important to have a support network around you that you can turn to for advice and support,” Lawton said.
“The whole HC Melbourne team are an amazing group which provide this support for me weekly.” “The mix of experience and debutants has made for an exciting group which has allowed all to enjoy and thrive in the experience.”
Many athletes who follow the path of successful sibling often speak about the pressure associated with following in famous footsteps, which Lawton admits she’s realistic about and tries to also separate her aspiration with being excited for big-sis Amy’s achievements.
“It’s always going to be hard to follow behind a successful older sibling, especially when you want to achieve in the same field,” Lawton concedes.
“It has always been a dream of both of ours to play for Australia and so the pressure that I feel is simply the pressure I put on myself to try and achieve those dreams.”
“However, I will always be my sister’s biggest supporter despite what my future may hold.”
The duo have drawn plenty of comparisons during the current Hockey One League campaign, particularly for their highly competitive nature and attacking-minded play as HC Melbourne stormed looked to complete the regular season with top spot.
“Our biggest difference would definitely be the way in which we eliminate players and our position on the field.”
“Specifically, Amy uses her ball handling skills to eliminate more, whilst I feel I rather use my speed to eliminate.”
“Despite our differences off-field perhaps not being glaringly obvious, we don’t enjoy being compared to each other much as we like to be known as individuals,” Lawton warns.
While the adage originates from an African proverb, it conveys the message that it takes many people to provide the environment for young people to develop and flourish, and to be able to realise their hopes and dreams.
As Hilary Clinton famously stated: “When I’m talking about ‘It Takes a Village’, I’m obviously not talking just about or even primarily about geographical villages any longer, but about the network of relationships and values that do connect us and binds us together”
The outstanding performances of young players of the ilk of Holland and Lawton in this year’s Sultana Bran Hockey One League suggest the hockey ‘village’ is as strong as ever.